Loud and unrelenting, rockers The Hold Steady are back with more solid tunes.
To be honest, I’m not the biggest Hold Steady fan. Prior to unloading Stay Positive‘s twelve tracks onto my computer, I only had one of their other songs, “The Swish,” from their album Almost Killed Me. “The Swish” had loads of small-town, small-venue (or pub) appeal. Their sound, from the gruff vocals to the unabashedly overdriven guitars, was a bit uncontrolled and unforgiving. It was admittedly hard to become accustomed to lead singer Craig Finn’s voice, but the sound was tight. With Stay Positive, they improve on their musicality (Finn even took voice lessons) without losing their charm that kept their song “The Swish” in my library.
I was drawn to the album by their song “Sequestered in Memphis,” which I heard first on the Hype Machine (a terrific aggregator of music blogs and a great source of free MP3s). “Sequestered” is a terrific anthem about, simply, getting caught by the law more or less with one’s pants down. The sarcastic lyrics paint a painfully clear story – a police interview conducted in the midst of what must be a wicked hangover. Organ and piano parts backup the standard guitar-drum-bass combo, making a bit of a sour story go down smoother.
But not all the songs on Stay Positive are as raucous and upbeat as “Sequestered.” Take the slow, low-point ballad “Lord, I’m Discouraged,” for example. Highly reminiscent of songs like “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” “Discouraged” is a solid broken-hearted, bluesy tale that makes for suprisingly good singalong material.
Another pair of well contrasting songs is that of “Both Crosses,” and “Stay Positive,” tracks which are boldly placed next to each other on the album. “Both Crosses” is another sad tale; “Stay Positive” is much more encouraging.
It’s pairs of songs like the two that I’ve mentioned in this review that make Stay Positive very well balanced as an album. I wasn’t too keen on all of the songs (I’m not a big fan of the harpsichord in “One for the Cutters”), but overall, the album is quite enjoyable and perfect for that cross-country road trip, or for a night at your favorite club. Either way, just don’t get “Subpoenaed in Texas, Sequestered in Memphis.”
Sources: Wikipedia – “The Hold Steady”